STEWART Island man wants his fellow islanders to follow his lead on solar energy and go off the grid.
Since 1988, Rakiura-Stewart Island has used diesel for its electricity and the hike on fuel prices and the Government’s goal to reduce carbon emissions has shone a light for the discussions on the future of energy on the island.
Sails Ashore Lodge owner Peter Tait became interested in solar power schemes after one of his visitors brought the subject up with him.
For a year, he tracked the energy trends in his Oban accommodation to understand if it was feasible.
“At first I thought it would not work but I did some investigation and I was quite surprised with the figures I got from it.”
When they received a $900-a-month energy bill last year, his wife Iris gave him the green light to put his solar plan in place.
He spent several thousand dollars on solar panels and batteries at their Oban accommodation and since March, his property has been completely off the electricity grid.
“We’ve been running it for five months now, it looks like our return will be something around 11 to 12% of the capital invested. It is quite a significant saving.”
He said they had installed panels and storage, of which they could access 80% or about 19 kilowatts of energy.
He expected to only use his generator for six to 10 hours per month during winter, and about three hours per month during summer.
“Our home is all electric cooking. Once the batteries are full at present we manually direct excess electricity into heating our domestic and central heating water, which to date is cutting our heating diesel usage in half. Over summer we expect much better than that.”
While he acknowledged the solar project on their scale was unaffordable for most islanders, he believed the Government or the Southland District Council could create a scheme in which it could lease some money to residents to invest in buying and installing solar panels in their properties.
“The beauty of the loan scheme is that the council would not need to spend the money, they would loan it. So the capital asset is always there, and the profits can be used to add more supply, and/or batteries to utilise excess production. ”
His idea and his movement for solar power received some criticism from members of the community as that meant it became a “loss to the community” power scheme, he said.
Many feared if more people decided to go off-grid, the energy prices on the island would increase even more.
“A grid tied community just makes so much sense, as it is environmentally sound and also makes each consumer co-owners of the island power system. Perhaps, most importantly, it goes some way to insulating the community from the ever-rising cost of non-renewable
Approached for comment, a Government spokeswomen said the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had not been made aware of this idea, but the best first port of call would be the local council.
She said several investigations into alternative electricity generation options for Stewart Island had been undertaken and evaluations had determined wind turbines were the most economic and environmentally acceptable option for securing affordable and resilient electricity for Stewart Island.
“The Government supports Stewart Island’s aspirations to increase renewable energy use and reduce reliance on diesel, which is why we allocated $3.16 million of funding through the Provincial Growth Fund to consent and construct a two-turbine wind farm on Stewart Island.
“Unfortunately, this project was unable to proceed due to issues securing land access for placement of the turbines was disappointing that this was rejected by the affected landowners.”
She said the business case for wind generation to replace diesel was being developed for the Chatham Islands and if this project went ahead and was deemed successful it could provide a useful model for Stewart Island in the future.
While the Southland District Council group manager infrastructure and environmental services Matt Russel said council had been involved in many assessments of alternative energy options for the island in recent years.
“Unfortunately none have proven viable to date. Council is confident that as technology improves and capital costs decrease, alternative supply options will become a reality for the island.
“In the meantime council will continue to closely monitor the situation and focus on the efficiency of the existing network.”